It’s been said that everyone has been touched by cancer at some point, many have a friends somebody that was affected. As you get older, it becomes your own friends, your own family, your spouse or yourself that has presented with cancer. Well, I’m 33 and some of the closest women to me have had a breast cancer diagnosis. This post, is about only two of them, Carlene – my step-mother, and Darna – my substitute mother.
Carlene was diagnosed when I was a teenager, my Dad was the one who first felt the lump and after six-months of pressuring her about it – she spoke to her OB/GYN. Yes, this was around the time of year she would do her mammogram so it was convenient. My memories are blurry about this time, but I do know what happened. She did the surgery, removed the breast and accompanying lymph nodes. I remember her going in for the surgery, I remember the non-talking about it, I remember her mom moving in to help out.
Prior to this, the only images I had ever had about cancer were the ones shown on television. Women being incredibly sick, losing their hair, looking gaunt, throwing up constantly and always, dying. In my own quiet way, I fretted about this – I wondered what would happen to our family, how would my brother and sister cope without their mom, how would my dad function without his wife, how could I fix it.
Carlene’s post-op treatment was chemotherapy, but you would never know it. She would come home after, take a nap and be back to the energetic woman we know her to be. No puking, no weight loss, no hair loss. She looked exactly as she did before, behaved as she did before – the difference? Her mom was there and she was chugging vegetable juices like they were oxygen.
Aunty Darna, was diagnosed 5 years ago. Being a proud and independent woman, she kept mum about it for a while; however, once she started her post-op treatments, we all knew. Her family and close friends walked with her through it, every step of the way.
I wasn’t worried though, I had at this time met so many survivors that the idea that people could still die from this seemed rare. Truthfully, I grew up with Aunty Darna, she has a will of adamantium and the idea of a life absent of her – impossible. She is a part of the concrete which makes up the foundation of who I am, I needed her to be there for the days in my life like my wedding and first born child.
She juiced, she ate the “right foods” but she had side-effects that I hadn’t seen before. Her skin would be burned from the radiation and chemo, she’d ask for oil to be rubbed into them to help them heal. If you were not in her physical presence, you’d never know she was weak. She continued, with the help of her son Jason and her sister Dorothy, to successfully run her chemical company from home. She refused to just lay there, even when she could.
Both these amazing women recovered from their encounters with Breast cancer, with their hearts and bodies as intact as possible.
Two years after we were told everything was good, all screens indicate recovery and a healthy body, Aunty Darna was diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer. Even with the odds against her, she decided to fight, and fight she did. She did treatments, she ate freshly picked sour sop, she went to great lengths to make sure she got the best treatment available. She was up and down for a while, and before our very eyes, she shrank, she became smaller, weaker, more frail as the days passed by.
It was difficult to see her after a while. It was not because of her physical and medical condition, but because it was like ripping out my own heart to see her as a shadow of the woman I admired so much I often called her Mommy. To know that the once commanding voice that could make CEO’s and Government Officials pay attention could now barely whisper was more than my heart could bear. I sat quietly at home, asked my parents to visit her, prayed and asked God to comfort her, to ease her pain, to hold her. The day came, she died, I went to a corner of the field and cried.
At her funeral, I sat in the back of the church and forced a stoic expression, made every effort to remain calm – I wanted to think of anything else, be anywhere else than there. It worked, right up to the burial grounds. I walked away from the funeral as the tears flowed uncontrollably and returned only after regaining composure. In that place we were all one. Broken because cancer had claimed someone we loved so much. Torn by the way cancer ravaged her being. We mourned together and apart.
Though I have friends and friends with mothers, aunts, sisters, grandmothers who have gone through this fire, these two women have shaped my view of cancer in the most intimate way I can imagine without having it myself. So when there is a 5K or walk-a-thon or a fundraiser of any sort for cancer, and I participate, I do it in honor of them.
They made it real for me, who makes it real for you?